Mousterian site of Ilskaya
Ilskaya site on Kuban
Unique monument of the Middle Paleolithic period in Russia
(abridged, courtesy of the author)
Fig. 1 Ilskaya site on the left bank of IL river
(western site area is on the left, eastern site
area, is on the right ). View from the southeast.
Ilskaya site is located in the Western Trans-Kuban area, in the Ilskiy settlment, Severskiy district, Krasnodar Territory, 50km southwest of Krasnodar. The Ilskiy settlment is mainly located on the valley bordering the Kuban River, and only its small southwest part lies along the valley of nowadays small IL river to the foothills of Northwest Caucasus. The site is located exactly in this mountain part of the settlement, in a rather narrow place of the river valley, immediately at its exit from foothills to the plain. It lies low over the river, in the basis of rather stiff southward left-bank slope of the valley (Fig. 1). One can easily see that the site is connected with the ancient bend of the river limited by capes on the northwest and southeast. Given the site topography, one hardly may doubt that primitive people choose the place not casually. Its position well matches their hunter's way of life. Most likely, the basic advantage of site location was its closeness to the narrowing of the river valley, which made it very suitable for arranging hides on social animals periodically moving from the plain along river valleys to pastures in mountain areas and back to the plain.
Ilskaya site was discovered by chance, during the development of oil fields in the former Cossack village of Ilskaya at the end of 19th century. Local oil industry workers found from time to time the bones of fossil animals during earth works. However, they showed no interest in them, and used to forget them soon. Famous French archeologist and traveler baron J. de Baye visited Ilskiy settlment on his way from Novorossiysk in the autumn of 1898. At that time the French company Russian Standard was opening one of new wells for oil production on the present 5th area of the Ilskiy oil field. The extracted ground contained ancient bones, and the researcher noticed them. According to his preliminary conclusion, the bones belonged to a mammoth and a hippopotamus probably hunted by primitive people. The small excavation undertaken by the researcher confirmed that. He also found stone tools together with bones (Baye, 1899, p. 12). This is how the Ilskaya site was discovered. The researcher had correctly determined mammoth bones, but was obviously wrong in recognizing the bones of other animals. The finds from Ilskaya were forwarded to France and shown at an exhibition in Paris. In France, L. Capitan (Capitan, 1899, p. 325) described them from the professional point of view as well. However, no specialist had seen the site opened by de Baye. People started to forget it already in early 20th century, and doubts regarding its existence arose.
Fig. 2 Ilskaya site. Knives with a two-sided
processing from the VII occupation layer
A serious interest in Ilskaya site arose first in 1925 when S.N. Zamiatnin, a post-graduate student of the State Academy of History of Material Culture, who just started studying the Paleolithic Age of the Caucasus and was the member of the North Caucasian ethno-logo-archaeological expedition headed by A.A. Miller, decided to find this mysterious site. He was shown a place near Ilskaya stanitsa where mammoth tusk and teeth were found during digging of an oil settlement ditch in 1923. His bore pits brought findings (Zamiatnin, 1925, pp. 11—19). When contacted by S.N. Zamiatnin, De Baye confirmed that the excavation was conducted exactly where he worked in 1898 (Zamiatnin, 1929, p. 283). Thus, Ilskaya site was rediscovered. The subsequent excavation (in 1926 and 1928) found a thick occupation layer (40…50cm on the average) on the site, which occurred, according to the soil scientist S.A. Zakharov, in the fossil soil formed in the ancient time on the river terrace flood plain (Zamiatnin, 1934 p. 209). Geologists dated this soil and the occupation layer the end of the last interglacial epoch (Gromova, 1932, p. 309), which is now dated 120…130 thousand years. About 225m2 of site area were excavate, which gave large collections of bone rests of the animal hunted by site inhabitants, and stone articles.